During last week’s NFL MNF game, the New York Jets quarterback created a media buzz by uttering three words to his coach on the sideline. Sam Darnold was mic’d up during the game allowing us to hear him tell head coach Adam Gase “I’m seeing ghosts” when explaining why he was struggling in the pass game. Darnold claims this is a commonly used phrase, yet many of us thought we were watching an old episode of Scooby-Doo. (Sidenote: Sam would make an excellent Shaggy for Halloween.)
Was Sam really seeing spirits out on the field, or did the New England Defense wear face paint that resembled ghosts? According to Sam’s explanation after the game, he was simply stating that “I need to see the field better.” If there were ghosts flying around out there I imagine it was hard to see the field, but that theory isn’t holding up.
His coach backed him up, saying “He probably was feeling like guys were coming free when they might not have been.” This would indicate that there weren’t ACTUALLY ghosts on the field, but rather Sam’s mind was overwhelmed so much that it was playing tricks on him. What a relief for those who suffer from Phasmophobia.
The Mystery Machine
How does a starting NFL quarterback find himself in this situation? They spend countless hours preparing for the week’s opponent, watching film and identifying tendencies so that they know what to expect on game day. But they need to remember all these tendencies and be ready to react to what they see at the line of scrimmage, so watching video is not enough.
Additionally, a good defense will make adjustments and tailor their game plan to the team they face, so watching what a defense did in the past will only prepare you so far. This requires a team to anticipate what their opponent will do, however they may not have video footage that accurately represents this.
Therefore, teams spend significant effort recreating these expected scenarios by using their scout team in practice throughout the week - at least at the professional and college levels. But what are the rest of us to do?
If you DON'T want to see ghosts like Sam this Halloween season, prepare yourself to see the field better. And you don’t need to be an NFL quarterback do it. Players of all ages and abilities are preparing themselves by studying their playbook. Some read the playbook, some watch video cut-ups, and some are taking it to the next level by playing through their playbook away from the field.
With the boom in sports technology, there are now many ways to get teams prepared for the field. On-field practice reps will never be replaced, but giving players and coaches tools to use away from the field will extend their capabilities. Video content has been the standard approach, however players and coaches are finding it’s not interactive enough to keep this generation of players engaged. So, teams are turning to new innovation.
Who You Gonna Call?
At Smash Routes, we like to think of ourselves as ghostbusters, helping players see the field and avoid encountering those flying ghouls. By installing a team’s playbook into our mobile game, players have fun and compete as they get smarter in their playbook. Using this interactive approach, players are spending more time “studying” which translates to being more prepared on game day.
“It helps because it gives me a visual when I’m on the field. When coach tells me something, I can remember what it looks like in Smash Routes which helps me.”
7th Grade Smash Routes Player
Coaches WIN too. By building smarter players, practices become more productive and allow for a greater focus on developing player skills. Also, plays can be run against various defenses (or offenses for the defensive playbook), so they’re practicing their plays in a simulated environment of the upcoming game.
When players arrive to games more prepared, the options available to a coach grow as they’re able to implement more in-game changes than they have previously when their team was limited in their playbook.
If It Weren’t For Those Meddling Kids
On that frightful Monday night, as the game clock ticked down to all zeros, the New England players began to take the field for post-game handshakes. One by one, they removed their helmets allowing “Shaggy” Darnold to see their true identities behind those ghostly masks. But instead of being caught and hauled off, they simply smiled as they got the best of the young QB that night.
Maybe next time he’ll be more like those meddling kids, identifying the false looks earlier in the game and helping his team reveal their opponents' true identities before he starts seeing ghosts again. Only time will tell.